The Seattle Sounders FC Academy U-15 squad is a unique entity in the club’s player development apparatus. As a conduit between the U-14s and the U-16s, the U-15s serve two primary objectives: to accelerate the development of players not quite ready for the U-16s and to help talented prospects brought in from Homegrown Territories and out-of-catchment areas get acclimated to the club.
One of the biggest problems in youth soccer before the advent of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy system was the over-reliance on gifted athletes playing route-one soccer. Often times the most intelligent and technically skilled players were passed over because of their size.
This is where Sounders Academy, and more specifically the U-15s, come into play. The overarching philosophy of the Academy is to develop technical, creative and intelligent soccer players for the first team. The organization is able to use the U-15s as a gestation period for gifted young prospects who need a bit more time to develop physically.
“We have a lot of guys who might be intelligent enough and technical enough to play for the U-16s, but biologically they’re not quite ready,” said U-15 head coach Michael Morris. “So having a U-15 team allows them to play in relevant games and high-quality training.
“It operates as a reserve team for the U-16s,” he continued, “so we don’t lose contact with these kids and can develop them internally for another year.”
Another objective for the U-15s is to help gifted prospects brought in from out of area, like Homegrown Territories or through national scouting, adjust to the Sounders Academy methodology and philosophy, as well as a new city.
Two standouts from the U-16s, Dylan Teves and Marlon Vargas, spent some time with the U-15s after moving to Seattle. Both players left home — Teves is from Hawaii while Vargas hails from central California — to sign with the club in their freshman years of high school. After several months with the U-15s, during which Morris spent countless hours going over match film with the players and giving them plenty of feedback, the two prospects have become regulars with the U-16s. Their progression to the older Academy side, according to Morris, demonstrates the purpose of the club’s U-15 team.
“Success is when a guy, who maybe wasn’t quite ready at the beginning of the season, becomes ready during the season and moves up to the U-16s and is able to make an impact,” said Morris. “Or maybe a player who wasn’t physically ready or needed to address a few things at the beginning of the season wouldn’t be full time with the U-16s becomes full time with the U-16s the following season.”
The vast amount of individual attention Morris provides to each one of his players also makes the selection process for Chris Little, the head coach of the U-16s, much easier in terms of bringing up players. The constant communication between Morris and Little means that if a player on the U-15s is putting in the work necessary to develop into an elite player, he will be rewarded with a spot on the older team.
“The U-15s are a unique and very valuable addition to the program,” said Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “It’s an opportunity for those players that need a little bit more time to develop, and a number of them have been able to make the jump to perform very well for the U-16s.”
With the U-15s serving as an interim between the youngest members of the Academy and the U-16s, the club has done an excellent job of addressing one of the biggest shortcomings of player development in U.S. Soccer. And with Morris at the helm, plenty of local players will get an extended opportunity to prove themselves in the Sounders’ youth system, ensuring no stones go unturned.